Interview by Helen Stubbs.
Matthew J Morrison is a part-time author who loves to write about characters who both slip between and fall through the cracks. His fiction has appeared in Aurealis Magazine and in the anthology Insert Title Here. He leads a relatively mild-mannered life in Tasmania with a young family, and where, by day, he herds extents of data. When called upon, he proofreads for Midnight Echo and the occasional small press publication. He also frequents the Twittersphere, disguised as @acutemattiosis.
Can you tell me about your story published in Insert Title Here?
‘Sins of Meals Past’ is, sadly, my most recently published work. (Sadly, that is, because it feels like a lifetime ago that I sold it – which is more a comment on my productivity than anything else.)
I had been fascinated with the idea of sin eaters for some time (sorry, spoilers!), and had tried to work one into a many a story. All without success. Then I stumbled upon some instructional videos for nurses (don’t ask) – hand washing, venesecting, sponge bathing, that sort of thing – and I was taken with the slow, methodical ritual of it all. I married the two ideas, et voilà.
It was probably the first story to which I truly applied the craft, too. Because it didn’t work out of the box. I had to wrangle it into a shape. I tried all manner of perspectives and settings, tenses and styles. Then, in a last ditch attempt, I resorted to the dark art of 2nd person. And that’s where the story had been hiding all along. (It’s always in the last place you look!)
I shall forever treasure Insert Title Here, as ‘Sins of Meals Past’ was my first sale to a print book.
When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer, are there any tips you would give past-you?
Yes, pull your finger out and start taking the craft seriously. Now.
In all honesty though, I participated in the AHWA Mentorship Program a few years back and was lucky enough to land Kaaron Warren as my mentor. In those few, all-too-brief months, I learned a lot about my abilities and how to improve upon them.
Key amongst those lessons, and the one I would telegraph to a twenty-something year old me, is this: listen to and trust your reader’s instinct.
I cannot count the number of stories I’ve ‘finished’, convincing myself that, despite my misgivings, the story still works. Wrong, wrong, wrong. That tiny, reproachful voice in my ear when I edit is not the personification of self-doubt. It’s not the insidious worm of imposter syndrome. It is the earnest and supplicating voice of a reader, with forty-odd years of bookishness to call upon, imploring me to stop, read and actually listen.
And nowadays, I tend to do just that.
Twenty-something year old me should stop watching so many B-grade horror videos and do the same.
What do you plan to work on next?
I’ve nearly finished my second ghost writing gig (yay!). And while that’s challenging and hones my craft, it always draws my focus away from the stuff I love to write. So soon, it’ll be all about me again.
A short story – one without a title worthy of print yet – has come back from the beta readers and is nearing the final editing stages. It’s about a 19th century stage magician who lifts the souls of audience members as part of his act. However, he longs to be free from the ever growing collective of souls, who’ve developed their own appetites.
I’m also plugging away at a fantasy novel. It’s a first novel, so it may take some time. Through the Dragon’s Teeth (working title) is high seas, mediaeval fantasy. It’s set aboard the ship Tern’s Feather as it’s pursued across the Dragon – a treacherous river delta that’s beset by shifting reefs, migrating monoliths and shrouded in the sulphurous Dragon’s Breath; and whose very waters sear and scar those it touches.
It’s only a zeroth draft, but I’m still finding it incredibly exciting to write. I’ll get there, but I’m not holding my breath.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Kaaron Warren’s ‘All Roll Over’ from In Your Face is a must read. All the stories in that anthology are disturbing on some level, trigger warnings abound. But Kaaron is a virtuoso of the long-lingering disquiet. This story is written from the perspective of a mattress, upon which all manner of suburban, yet unspeakable, acts are committed. My skin crawls to recall it, right now, as I type.
And I’ve just finished Dirk Flinthart’s collection Striking Fire. Dirk is another master of the short form. Nary a dud story in the whole collection; and all distinctly Dirk. What he does with a vampire trope is champagne stuff.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Easy. Stephen Fry on one side, Bill Bryson on the other (not very SF, I know). They are both so much more well- and diversely-read then I could ever dream of being. And both are engaging speakers with a deep, abiding adoration for the English language. I reckon, in getting the two of them together, they would achieve some sort of conversational critical mass. I would come away with literally limitless fodder for stories.
And then Robin Hobb and Edgar Allan Poe seated behind me, so I can kneel around and open the fan boy faucets when Fry and Bryson get too rowdy.